You're pretty good at analysis, so take a look at these clues about a youth and tell me how you think he'll turn out:

He takes some thread and sews shut the eyelids of a pack of hogs, effectively blinding them. He does this because the farmer thinks the beasts will be more tractable if they can't see, and our bright lad helps him out.

Again, he is inconvenienced by a little yellow mongrel, that yaps and alerts the household when our boy wants to sneak out at night. So he kills a coon, skins it and ties the fur around the mutt. Terrified, the dog dashes home where other dogs tear it to pieces.

This paragon of the frontier was no other than Abraham Lincoln, the greatest of American heroes and, with Washington, the greatest of American presidents.

As he matured, Lincoln grew fond of animals and refused to kill them, or to hunt anything except possibly small creatures like squirrels.

But I think you might guess that any kid who sewed an animal's eyes shut, or deliberately sent a small dog to its death would probably turn into an ax murderer. He was, in fact, a lawyer, but that is not quite the same.

If you predicted such a kid would wind up a monster it would be an understandable error. We naturally judge the whole by the part. We see a particular action of a person and assume it is typical.

But if we knew a great deal more about the young Lincoln, far more than the two actions cited above, we might have predicted success or even grandeur for him. His remarkable memory, his taste for great literature and his determination to raise himself by his bootstraps might all suggest a future better than killing a dog or blinding some pigs.

Ever since reading "Lincoln's Quest for Union" by Prof. Charles Strozier, now at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I have been thinking of some curious behavior of Lincoln's before his (somewhat strange) marriage to Mary Todd. And throughout his life, no doubt, he sailed over darkness, as you might say, and I always had the feeling he was barely held together by a little baling wire.

Still, we can boast no other president of equal depth and grandeur, and I wonder if his early education had something to do with it. Few presidents have had a sense of humor, as Lincoln did. Certainly a lack of humor is one of the major defects of Jefferson. Lincoln as a youth had only a few books (he knew the Bible and "Pilgrim's Progress" and some of Shakespeare), but these seemed to have shaped his mind. Jefferson had endless books and endless interests -- if he was not trying to tell the Carolinians what kind of rice to eat (one of his numerous failures) he was urging Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for any stray mastodons out West as he wanted one the worst way for his park at Monticello. But I don't think he ever saw anything funny about himself.

But not to wander off to Jefferson, always a temptation for an American, and sticking to Lincoln, the point of the pigs and the dog is that any human has a central mass, maybe, but also an extraordinary number of oblique angles, tangents, storms in the nebulae, that do not fit the central character.

Mussolini, who has no great reputation as a merciful St. Francis sort of man, nevertheless did much to preserve songbirds that before him were killed on their long flights from Africa to northern Europe.

National leaders are undoubtedly shaped by circumstances over which they have no say, and by luck, as well as by character. Even as a boy or a youth, if Lincoln had grown up in Philadelphia in a settled respectable family, instead of in the middle of nowhere in a shack, he probably would not have bothered the luckless pigs. The kind of people you grow up with has a lot to do with how you behave. Americans watch stupid TV shows because that's what Americans do. Americans do not read Herodotus because that's not what Americans do. It has nothing to do with brains (Herodotus has more violence and horror in 50 pages than has ever yet appeared on the goriest American TV show, virtually all of it gratuitous and included for its sheer entertainment value to the reader) and everything to do with custom.

Custom is king. Art, ethics, morals are all closely related to custom or, as people like to say now, peer pressure. A great deal that passes for art, or that passes for morality, has nothing much to do with esthetics or with virtue, and a lot to do with what the guys in the office, or the Army, or the street happen to think. A lot of people who adored Elvis Presley did not care so much about the music as about the fact that he spoke for them in the sense that he made it big though he was not educated. You found many who liked him chiefly because he was not white-collar. I never heard Elvis make grammatical errors in his speech. Do you suppose he would have been an even greater success if he got his verbs and prepositions all screwed up?

Enough. I have concluded not to judge Mussolini for his kindness to little birds or Lincoln for his barbarism with the little dog. Men can change and continually do. A nice cause for despair. A dandy cause for hope.